New dean, same as old dean

Casa en Never Never Land, Ibiza, Spain, by Office for Political Innovation. (ArchDaily)

Andrés Jaque has just been named dean of the architecture school at Columbia University. He replaces Amale Andraos, who will advise university president Lee Bollinger on his new Columbia Climate School. Jaque founded and is principal of the firm Office for Political Innovation, in New York and Madrid.

So who cares about the churn of architecture school deans? Keep reading.

Jaque’s firm, founded in 2003, “work[s] at the intersection of design, research, and critical environmental practices,” says its website. It “develops projects that transition across scales and medium [sic], intended to bring inclusivity into the built environment.” His professed aim as dean will be to help students address matters of “inclusivity, inequalities and the fundamental climate crisis.”

Indeed, the New York Times article by James S. Russell on the appointment says the firm “has developed works with an expansiveness and exuberance of form and color that address social inclusiveness and environmental responsibility.”

How does exuberance of form and color address social inclusiveness and environmental responsibility? It’s probably better not to ask. This sort of word salad is no more coherent than the buildings that architecture and architecture schools have embraced to “address” the problems it sees in the built environment.

Indeed, those may be real problems, but it is not clear that solving them is the job of architecture. It is fair to doubt they can be solved via such architecture as a house in Spain by Jaque described by Russell as “choreographed pavilions on stilts of glass with chartreuse-painted trim to preserve local species of plants and pathways used by animals” (see above). Is it fair to wonder whether any plants or animals were extinguished in the process of building that house?

In a line from an interview placed by Russell directly after that description, Jaque says, “Architecture now needs to be about inclusion and messiness rather than exclusion and purity.” Try to parse that remark! You might say that architecture today is about trying to demonstrate the purity of messiness.

Padriac Steinschneider, a Columbia architecture grad of the mid-’70s, reacting to the appointment, writes that “Columbia has moved further and further away from teaching design as the creation of buildings.” Architect Daniel Morales adds, “This is true of modernism in general with its emphasis on theory over problem solving. Today modernism has become ever more grandiose in its ambition to save the world when in reality we are not politicians or social scientists.”

One of the reasons the world is so confusing today, and finds it harder and harder to address problems, is that architects and other professionals are encouraged to get out of their lanes. Andrés Jaque is just one more of the many of his ilk. The world of architecture will continue to dodge its true responsibilities.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to New dean, same as old dean

  1. Innovation is all they know, or all they think they need to know. But they don’t know what it is or what it should be, so everything they create is inadequate to its task.

    Like

  2. Thomas Hayes says:

    These are perfect in a Kansas tornedo! Wonder if they include running water.

    Like

  3. LazyReader says:

    Office for Political Innovation…. if politicians knew how to innovate there’d be fewer of them

    Like

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